Luminous Darkness » Voting for Doctrine


My friend Jamie McMahon reports on a service he attended at Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburgh yesterday (The Feast of St. Andrew).

“Since today is the Feast of St. Andrew, I attended the noon Eucharist in the cathedral downtown here in Pittsburgh. I am not sure who the priest was that took the service, but his sermon was a fascinating dismissal of the entire decision-making process that has been in place throughout the history of the Church. He began by saying that in our American culture today we feel that we can only accept something once we have discussed it at great length and then voted on it. For him, the impact of this is that we do not fully accept any idea or proposition, but rather constantly ask for more proof and more evidence.

He then went on to say that this is also the way that the ‘modern’ Church makes decisions about doctrine, that is, by voting on them, and that this is wrong and goes against true Christian practice and belief. He held up St. Andrew as someone who simply followed what Jesus told him to do, and said that we should do the same. Of course, he didn’t mention what we should do when faced with a problem that Jesus didn’t discuss.”

Jamie goes on to point out the lack of historical perspective when making such a statement. I’m more interested in the rather sweeping dismissal the sermon makes of the process of “reception by the faithful Church”. There are new teachings given to the Church (the Trinity is the standard example) that are ultimately validated by the Catholic reception of the doctrine. That which is not universally received is not from God. But the process doesn’t happen overnight – in truth it usually takes centuries.

I would argue that we are in just such a moment now as the Church struggles to hear what the Spirit of God is saying to us. The democratic process is the method of reception that we use in the Episcopal Church. I seem to remember voting in earlier conclaves and synods in other parts of and earlier episodes of reception in the Church…

Non-historical eh?

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1 Comment

  1. I think that we as Americans have adopted the philosophy of dissecting an issue, faith-based or otherwise, into oblivion because we are hit with a colossal volley of information at all times. It is virtually impossible to research something online without being presented with hundreds or thousands of pieces of information, all of varying degrees of congruence. Naturally, or perhaps naively, what follows is the thought to take a mental vote of which pieces of information seem the most authentic, plausible, or simple to make a conclusion, and following that, the idea that every issue should be approached with that same method.
    That said, I wonder if the American people would stand for a non-democratic determination of the future of their institutionalized faith. I personally doubt it.

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